Spotlight On René Depestre

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Jean Jonassaint

Since the publication of his first collection of poetry, Étincelles (1945), René Depestre, born in Jacmel in 1926, never ceased to amaze us, him, that Aimé Césaire presented “as a Master of the dew, […] poet of the freshness, of the sap that rises, of the life that blossoms, of the river of hope that irrigates the soil of the present and the work of men.”

He is by far the most consistent and productive Haitian writer of his generation with around forty books spanning nearly 80 years: poems, essays, stories, journals, translations in both French and Spanish. The publication back to back, this year, in the USA and in France of two of his works — one, an English translation by Kaiama L. Glover in the “Caraf Books” series of the University of Virginia Press of his last novel to date, Popa Singer (1st French edition: Paris, Zulma, 2016); the other, the reissue in the famous collection, “Poésie/Gallimard”, of his anthology of poems, Journal d’un animal marin (initially published by Gallimard in the “Blanche” series in 1990), title borrowed from his 1964 collection published by Seghers—worth noting.

Personally, his work had a profound impact on me; until I was 18, it was all my poetic world, or almost. Therefore, for me, more than anyone else, he deserves our attention, him, who, at 98 years old, traces his letters with the same rigor, the same vigor of the young poet dedicating Gerbe de sang (1946) to my father; him, who in his great generosity, from our first meeting in Havana, in the summer of 1977, received me like a friend.

For an introduction to Depestrian poethics to see, to read or to listen to:

Asselin Charles, “Introducing René Depestre” 

René Depestre, “The Enchantment of a Rainy Hour” — a short story from Alléluia pour une femme-jardin (Paris, Gallimard © 1981, p. [131]-136) 

Île en île, René Depestre  

Éditions Zuma, Dossier Popa Singer, comprenant entre autres un extrait du texte original français.

René Depestre, poète rebelle, un podcast de France Culture 

Gaël Faye & Mélissa Laveaux – Hommage à René Depestre (intégrale)

La très honorable Michaëlle Jean rend hommage à René Depestre, une interview de Rodney St-Éloi 

Kaiama L. Glover : Magic and History: On Translating René Despestre 

Kaiama L. Glover: “Haiti and the Fictions of History

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